“Hey, Kujou. Wake up.”
“You overbearing, nitpicking fusspot of a foreign student. Wake up this instant.”
“…You’re the last person I want to hear that from, Victorique!” Kazuya angrily jolted awake. At the same time, he felt Victorique blow smoke up his nose. He waved the smoke away and broke into an attack of coughing. “Ugh, stop it, Victorique. My goodness, you can be so childish….”
A look of hurt pride passed over Victorique’s face.
But Kazuya ignored this, and looked around the room instead. “Huh? Where are we?”
“Another room. It’s the lounge,” answered Victorique, sullenly turning her head away from him.
They were in a lounge around the same width as the dining room they had been in previously. But unlike the previous room, the chandelier hanging from the ceiling was lit up so brightly that it stung their eyes.
Along the wall was a small stage with sheet music on display, as if a band had been playing there only moments before. Several small tables that looked as though they were meant for drinking or playing poker were arranged in the center of the room. In the corner, there was a bar counter, lined with many bottles of expensive wine.
The adults who had been in the dining room earlier were seated in chairs or sleeping on top of tables as if they were beds. Kazuya looked around the bright room, and saw that the men largely appeared to be in their forties or older. They wore finely tailored suits, polished shoes and cufflinks, and carefully groomed beards. All of them were clearly men of high social status, but for now they held their heads and groaned in pain.
For some reason, the acrid smell of paint thinner hung faintly in the air. Kazuya felt it assail his nostrils every time he inhaled. If everyone was feeling ill, this smell could be another reason why.
Victorique sat quietly in the seat next to where Kazuya had been placed. Ned Baxter was next to her. He held his head in his hands and slumped over in discomfort.
Kazuya, whose head was also throbbing dully, looked over at Victorique. She seemed to be fine.
“It looks like someone drugged our food. By the time I woke up, all of us had been moved to this lounge.”
Victorique didn’t respond. Instead, she eyed the inside of the lounge.
Kazuya was once again shocked at the fact that nearly all of the men were older. Ned was the youngest man there, at around his mid-twenties.
“There’s only old men here, Victorique.”
“No, not quite. There’s a woman over there.”
Kazuya followed Victorique’s gaze.
A young woman was sitting by herself, resting her small, shapely rump on a table near the door. She was wearing a vermillion dress, and her sleek black hair that hung down to her waist made for a striking contrast against her red-clad body.
Sensing Kazuya’s eyes upon her, she suddenly turned around to look back at him.
She wore eye-catching red lipstick that matched her dress. Her blue eyes shimmered, framed by long eyelashes. It may have been the effect of her baby-faced features, but for a moment, she looked as if she were a child who had put on adult clothing. Even so, she was probably in her early twenties. Her lips were pulled taut in an expression of firm resolve, as if she were willing to start an argument with someone at any minute.
The moans and fearful murmurs swelling through the lounge fell completely silent. No one moved a muscle, and merely gripped their heads in distress.
Victorique looked away from the woman in the red dress, and whispered to Kazuya, “Kujou, there’s something strange here.”
“There’s one more person.”
Kazuya blinked. “Are you sure? There were only enough seats for ten people, and you and I both came, too.”
“But that’s not it, Kujou. There’s someone else besides us.”
“How is that possible?”
Victorique stamped the ground in a fit of pique, frustrated that she wasn’t getting through to Kazuya. She scowled, and started to speak much quicker than usual. “In other words, there were originally nine people in the dining room. After we came, there were eleven people. But … see what happens if you count everyone now.”
Kazuya did as Victorique requested and counted the moaning people in the lounge.
One, two, three…
Four… five… six…
Once he finished counting, he exclaimed incredulously, “You’re right! There’s twelve people here!”
“Correct.” Victorique nodded in satisfaction, apparently relieved that she had finally made herself clear. “So that means someone who wasn’t in the dining room earlier slipped into the crowd in the meantime. That person is likely the culprit. He didn’t partake of that dinner. He’s the one who moved us here while we were unconscious. And now he’s trying to pass himself off as one of us….”
Kazuya surveyed the lounge. The group of men were not only nursing headaches from the sedative, but were also darting their eyes around fearfully. Each time their gazes met, they would cry out in recognition, as if they remembered each others’ faces from somewhere.
But the young Ned Baxter only stared in astonishment at his surroundings. “B-bloody hell… What happened?” he muttered to himself in consternation.
The woman in the red dress suddenly stood up, and shouted in fury, “What the hell is this?! Where are we? Damn it—Oh! It won’t open!”
She gripped the doorknob with both hands and violently shook it. The eyes of everyone in the room were immediately drawn to her. The woman yanked her hands away from the doorknob, and turned back to the lounge with a look of terror on her face. “Why? Where are we? Why is the door locked?!”
No one had an answer.
The group of older men averted their eyes from her in distaste. Ned, Victorique, and Kazuya stared at the woman, who stood petrified in fear. Then the woman strode toward the three of them, and sank down in a seat nearby.
While on route to her seat, her small handbag smacked Kazuya directly in the head. “Ouch!” he cried out in pain.
The woman made no attempt to apologize, and merely looked down at him and snorted. Ned asked him in her stead, “Are you all right?”
It was an awfully heavy handbag, thought Kazuya, looking askance at the woman.
Then he turned to Victorique and asked her softly, “Say, Victorique. What do you think is going on here?”
“…It’s chaos,” answered Victorique grumpily.
“…There’s nothing else I can say, other than the fact that there aren’t enough fragments to use as materials for reconstruction.”
“So, in other words, you have no idea,” said Kazuya knowingly.
Victorique scowled, her white cheeks puffing out like a child’s. She pinned Kazuya with a glare. “I am only saying that there’s a lack of materials. It doesn’t mean I have no idea.”
“…Sounds like you’re nitpicking.”
“Ugh! Anyway, there’s nothing I don’t know. I just have to—”
“…Sounds like you’re full of it.”
Kazuya and Victorique glared at each other, sparks flying between his jet-black eyes and her clear emerald-green eyes.
And then, several seconds later…
“Sorry…” said Kazuya, admitting defeat.
“Hmph. Just as long as you know.”
Unable to defeat the power of her gaze, Kazuya automatically apologized, even though he had done nothing wrong.